Saturday, November 29, 2008

Before you buy a pellet stove....

We've learned a few things since the installation of our pellet stove nearly 2 months ago.
I researched various heating sources before we focused on pellet/corn stoves. Then I studied various makes, models, and manufacturers. We ended up purchasing a Magnum Baby Countryside partly because of the quality, partly because of the price, and partly because of the comfort-level we felt with the seller/installer. Unfortunately, it hasn't been the love-at-first fire that we had hoped for and expected.

, getting the fire to ignite and then keep burning was a bit of a challenge. We learned that you have to get to know your stove, learn the right ratio of air-to-pellet fuel to get it going and the changes you need to make to keep a consistent flame. Due to the differences in the homes the stove are installed in, it is really a process of learning what works in your particular case. So, we finally got the starting and maintaining down. But even though it's only in the 30s outside, the house is still cold. Yikes! Investigation brings a rude realization - the room we installed this in has little to no insulation. A few years ago we remodeled our old farmhouse. This particular room had been enclosed within other small rooms - the walls had not needed insulation because they weren't exterior walls. And then we remodeled - and removed the exterior rooms, instead creating a wrap-around porch. And frankly, because we "wrapped" the walls on the outside with a foam insulating board before putting up new vinyl siding, we never thought again about insulation. I cringe when I think of the money we burned up in energy costs thanks to this oversight!

So, some $500 later - and thanks to our sons who gave up a Saturday to use the blowing machine - we have cellulose insulation blown into the walls and above the ceiling of that room, as well as additional layers of attic insulation throughout the rest of the house.

Oh, and one more thing. It's messy. Not anything as messy as a regular wood stove or fireplace, but still, messy. The firepot needs to be cleaned daily. And it didn't take long to figure out why there were stove vacuums all over the showroom where we bought our stove. Vacuuming is very obviously the BEST way to handle the soot and fines.
We used our house vac at first - but concerns with hot embers and finding that soot gets all over the thing - led us to spend another $200 on a vacuum designed for use with wood-burning stoves, pellet/corn stoves, fireplaces, etc.

Oh, and one more "extra" cost. A non-combustible base has to be under the stove. Naturally, the room we wanted to install it in had carpeting. So, to save money, we built our own tiled base. Pre-constructed bases sell for around
$200-$400 depending size and style. We had hoped to do ours for less than $100, but ended up spending about $150.

So, let's see - $2,200 stove + $150 base + $500 insulation + $200 vacuum = $3,050 so far. Oh, and that isn't counting fuel. That's about $3.80 per 40 lb. bag and so far we have used about 30 bags. We've bought 1 ton already, and expect to use 2 -3 more tons before winter is over.

So, yes, it has cost quite a bit more than we planned to start with. And we'll still have to use propane as a back up when we get down into the single-digit temps that are bound to come.

Would we do it again. Well, yes, I think so. We don't want to be so dependent on propane and we love the feel of the radiant heat. It feels good to know we are using a renewable source of energy, in a manner that is very efficient with minimal environmental impact. It's really nice to watch the fire and the stove looks great!
And considering that we spent over $3,000 on propane last winter, we are at least investing the money in something that should give us years of service with only the cost of fuel and occasional maintenance from here on out. And we really don't mind the chores that come with using wood pellets - they really don't take that much time out of your day. The insulation should have been done years ago, and it is very obvious that adding it has improved the ability of the pellet stove to keep our home warm. I just want to caution anyone considering a pellet/corn stove to study it carefully. It isn't mess-free or work-free by any means, and there will no doubt be a few extra costs to plan on.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Family Photo Shoot

Last weekend our family gathered for a photo shoot - for the first time in over 9 years. It was wonderful to get all of them together in one place, even for a short time. We took the pictures ourselves with both digital and 35mm cameras. I'm a bit rusty, so while the results aren't professional, we're still pleased with the outcome. If I could just get us all together again this weekend I could not doubt improve on the photos - but it will probably take another 9 years to get us all gathered in one spot again!

Monday, November 3, 2008

November Gardens

Over the weekend I spent hours cleaning out the veggie and flower gardens. I always marvel at what survives a hard frost. Of course the tomatoes, peppers and most other veggies bit the dust a week ago when we got our first dip into the 20s. My marigolds died too, and they were scattered throughout all my gardens and beds.

What survived? How about these wild-type strawberries I grew from seed this year. The blooms AND the berries are still fine! With any luck, the berries will finish ripening in the sunshine we expect to continue to have for the next 2-3 days. The berries are small, with the biggest ones being about the size of the tip of my pinkie finger. But oh, what flavor! They are the perfect treat when weeding or watering or doing other gardening chores. I'm not sure if they will send out runners and multiply like I've seen domestic strawberries do, but I hope so. I'd love the flower bed to be full of them.

The Sweet William (foreground) is still a vibrant green. The Eunonymous is still growing - see it reaching straight up there just below the window? And the Hollyhocks look a bit tattered but are still hanging in there. This year I started both the Hollyhocks and Sweet William from seed, and they don't bloom until their 2nd season, so I'm looking forward to next year's flowers.

And the herbs - most anyway - are still looking fabulous. In this pot I have Flatleaf Parsley and Curry and a bit of Marjoram that can't really be seen. The Rosemary in the veggie garden is still perfect, but the Cilantro and Dill are looking a bit weathered. The chives and a few green onions are the only other things I'm still able to harvest.

I love this time of year, even though most everything in my gardens is either dying or going dormant. Fortunately, it doesn't all happen at once!

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